197Past/perfect in Eldarin
- Aug 9 8:51 AMIt seems to me that there is considerable confusion in the discussion
of past/perfect tenses of Eldarin verbs. That's often caused by lack
of appropriate terminology, in my humble opinion. The tense systems of
languages are different; some languages don't even have tenses at all.
Usage of perfect tense is different even between American and British
English, so one should be VERY careful with interpretations of
Tolkien's glosses. When he translates an Elvish sentence with a
perfect, it doesn't mean Elves would use a perfect in their language,
and the same goes for past tense or present. We have trouble calling
things by their names even in English. Here's an example from the
Ardalambion website (the article about Sindarin):
'If someone sees you, you are seen; "seen" is therefore the passive
participle of the verb "to see". "Seen" is actually irregular; in most
cases, English forms its passive participles by means of the ending
-ed (e.g. killed from kill).'
This is absolutely misleading. What's passive in "I have seen the
light"? So "past participle" would be better here, but it's not
entirely correct, too: "You are seen" is present tense. What "seen"
actually means, is the RESULT of the action described by the verb
"see". So let's call it a RESULTATIVE participle.
Of course, there is some tense information implied: in order to give a
result already, the action must have begun in the past. Could it be
that the most primitive past tense in Quenya (or even PQ) is actually
a resultative? Let's consider examples from "The Lost Road" [V: 51]
(sorry, I have to use a circumflex instead of the original macron):
_sauron tûle_ (translation: "? came"), _ohtakâre valannar_ ("war-made
Now we find quite a few NOUNS in Etymologies built in the same way: a
naked root meaning an action, with lengthened vowel and the suffix _-e_:
ORO- "up, rise, high" and _óre_ "rising", [V:422]
NUT- "tie, bind" and _núte_ "bond, knot" [V:422]
NOT- "count, reckon" and _nóte_ "number" [V:422]
SIR- "flow" and _síre_ "river" [V:430]
All of those nouns mean the (persistent) result of the corresponding
action, and I could give more examples easily.
So the old form of the past could be just a verbal noun meaning a
result, originally. And these forms were never really abandoned by
JRRT! If _?*tûlê_ is the PQ original, it would be _tûl_ in Sindarin.
Maybe _tûl acharn_ instead of _tôl acharn_ (I'm told it's in WJ:254,
301) is just the resultative "vengeance has come" instead of
"vengeance comes"? When I finally receive the book from Amazon, I'll
check whether this interpretation is possible. Right now, I have to
quote it from more or less reliable secondary sources, where I don't
have a context, and I don't like that at all.
We know for certain that _*akâra_ > S. _agor_ ( "did, made", WJ:415),
and it's clear that the good old _?*ânê_ > Q. _áne_ (said to be in the
Qenya Lexicon 1915) was always around in LotR in Sindarin (the _onen_
"I gave" from Gilraen's _linnod_, LotR:1036).
I certainly don't have to mention the _unduláve_ from _Namárie_ (LotR,
368). I still think it derives from DAB-, not from LAB-, sorry! :-)
Thus, the past/perfect of Eldarin verbs seems to be one of the most
stable parts of the grammar.
This is only one form of the past. Let's return to the "irregular"
(sorry, it's a quote!!!) participle "seen". It's rather regular for a
linguist, taking into account participles like "been, done, gone,
spoken, hewn, fallen" and many more. All are formed in the same
"irregular" way, with a suffix "-(e)n(e)". And that's exactly the way
how another past tense of Eldarin verbs is built. Knowing to some
extent how JRRT worked, I doubt it's just a coincidence.
But that past tense is another story, which will be told in another
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